Recently, I had a huge parenting failure. I lost my temper and unleashed every emotion I had been keeping bottled up on my poor, unsuspecting child. Looking at the tears in his eyes as I ranted, I knew I had crossed the line. Once I gathered myself, I apologized and, as kids are prone to do, he forgave me right away. I prayed and asked the Lord to forgive me too. Then came the really hard part, forgiving myself.
When my former husband and I first separated, I struggled with self condemnation then too. I would recall all the ways I had failed in my marriage, all the ways I had been selfish and self-serving. I didn’t need anyone to punish me. I was doing a fine job of it by myself.
We all know how important it is to forgive others quickly (Matthew 6:14). But why does it seem okay to somehow keep beating ourselves up over our mistakes? When God says in Psalm 103:12 (ESV), “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us,” we counter with, “No, you’ve got it wrong, God. This time I’ve gone too far. This time I can’t be forgiven.” When He says He “… will cast our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19b, ESV), we grab our fishing poles. Why? Why do we somehow think we know better than the God of the Universe when it comes to forgiving our own sin?
David knew what it was like to have an epic failure. He committed adultery, then tried to cover it up with murder (2 Samuel 11). Psalm 51 was written after the Prophet Nathan confronted him about his sin: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (vs. 1-3 ESV, emphasis added). I’m sure David felt as I have felt, unforgivable. I’m sure he kept replaying in his mind the errant choices he made. That’s why he says, “my sin is ever before me.”
When we are in self-condemnation, we hide from God, feeling unworthy. That’s exactly what the enemy of our souls wants. He wants us to feel shame for our sin and hide just like Adam and Eve did in the garden. But when Adam and Eve sinned, God came looking for them. He didn’t storm in with bolts of lightning and cracks of thunder, ready to condemn. He simply came looking for His children (Genesis 3). He does the same for us. While we’re busy trying to cover up our mess, He comes with arms wide open, ready to forgive, if we would only come to Him.
That’s what David did. He went directly to God, without covering up: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgement” (Psalm 51:4 ESV). He goes on to say, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:10-12 ESV).
Forgiving ourselves is really just learning to receive the forgiveness that God has already given us through the death of His Son. We need to take God at His word when He says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2 ESV).
In the immortal words of Jesus: “Your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5b). Now “pick up your bed and walk” in that forgiveness (paraphrase of Mark 2:11).